Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Beach Monitoring in CA Survives Budget Cuts for 1 More Year

Nearly $1 million found for beach water tests in 2011

Funds still must be approved by state water officials.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2010 AT 1:48 P.M.

Beach  water quality testing in San Diego County and the rest of California is jeopardized by the lack of a long-term funding source.


Beach water quality testing in San Diego County and the rest of California is jeopardized by the lack of a long-term funding source.

California’s signature clean-beach initiative — testing for bacteria at hundreds of sites statewide — was left out of the recently passed budget, but a state agency appears to have found nearly $1 million to keep the program afloat for another year.

On Nov. 2, the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to approve spending $984,000 from voter-approved environmental funding initiatives to pay for the tests in 2011. The board approved a similar measure in 2008. The new move is likely to come with a directive that various parties involved in ocean monitoring better coordinate their efforts to reduce redundancy and the need for outside funding.

Beyond that, the future of beach testing in California remains murky, as it has been since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated spending for the program during budget cuts in 2008.

Ocean advocates welcomed the possible injection of grant money from Propositions 13 and 50 but said it’s not enough. The funds would come from projects that didn’t use their allotment.

“This does not represent a sustainable, long-term source of funding,” said Rick Wilson, coastal management coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation’s national office in San Clemente. “It is imperative that such a funding source be identified for the protection of beachgoers in the future.”

In 1997, Assembly Bill 411 mandated that all beaches with storm drains that discharge during dry weather and that are visited by more than 50,000 people a year be monitored at least weekly by local health officials from April 1 to Oct. 31. California later ordered the posting of warning signs at beaches that exceed state standards for bacterial indicators.

The program is among the most comprehensive in the nation and is widely credited with prompting improvements at polluted beaches. If it disappears, conservationists such as Wilson fear contamination levels will creep back up to pre-1997 levels.

For months, ecology groups, health officials, elected leaders and others have been trying to cobble together a steady stream of money to keep the tests running. Historically, San Diego County received about $300,000 for its peak-season testing at dozens of sites.

“San Diego County is in some ways the most perilous situation because it gets the biggest amount from the state,” Wilson said.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox has directed his staff to investigate financing sources, including a possible federal grant, but said this week that nothing is imminent.

“I view this as a public safety issue and something that we ought to be doing for the public, especially in San Diego” where the economy relies on beach tourism, Cox said.

So why not use county money to pay for the program?

“We are dealing with the same issues everybody else is” with regard to budget cuts, Cox said.

Mike Lee: (619)293-2034; Follow on Twitter @sdenvi

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Surfrider Europe Investigates Plastic Debris on Atlantic Beaches

Biofilters wash up on Atlantic beaches

October 12, 2010 | Words By: Howard

The beaches of the Atlantic are sprinkled with small plastic wheels: this new phenomenon sparked the suspicions of Surfrider Europe, who launched an investigation that is still underway. A brief interview with François Verdet, manager of Surfrider’s Chapter 64 and lead investigator into the mysterious bio-filters, provides an update on the situation. Elodie Melenec asks the questions.

SFE: How long has the Surfrider Foundation been aware of this form of pollution?

François Verdet: Living on the Basque Coast since July in 2007, I recall seeing these little pieces of plastic on the beaches since my arrival. But in November of 2009, the numbers spiked and the Surfrider Chapter of the Basque Coast took the decision to launch an investigation. Initially, it was challenging because nobody was interested in this type of pollution. We heard rumours that they were packing material for large cargo aboard freighters or even wastes from patrolling submarines! The answer arrived from Corsica. The local Surfrider Chapter, responding to an invitation from the city of Ajaccio for a presentation on a new waste water treatment plant, recognized the little plastic bio-filters on the cover of some printed documents. We could finally put a name and a purpose to the mystery objects that were populating Atlantic beaches in their thousands.

SFE: Can you explain what the bio-filters are and how they wound up on the beaches?

F.V.: These bio-filters, or bio-carriers (médias filtrants or biomédias in French and biosoportes in Spanish) are actually substrate for micro-organisms used in waste water treatment plants and also in certain industries. It’s very simple: generally speaking, wastes are screened through progressively finer mesh to retain suspended particles. They are then treated chemically or with UV light and the final stage is a biological filtration to eliminate micro-residues. It’s in this final stage that bacteria are at work to break down the wastes. Researchers noticed that this process was more effective if they had some kind of support to attach to. This is why, starting in around 2000, more and more waste water treatment plants as well as industrial plants, were filling their biological ponds with millions the plastic wheels for the bacteria to attach to. Unfortunately, some of the ponds containing the bio-filters overflowed and the filters washed into nearby streams, and then into the ocean. For example, we found instances where this occurred in the Seine in Paris, the Oria River in the Basque Country, and the Minho River in Portugal. In each instance, hundreds of thousands, even millions of the bio-filters, were released into the environment.

Credit: Antenne 64 Surfrider

SFE: What specific demands and what goals are you targeting with this project?

F.V.: Our objective is obviously to get this new form of pollution to stop. It’s so paradoxical to pollute the environment while trying to clean it! Today, a half-dozen people at Surfrider are working on this via several angles:
1. Fieldwork to gather more information and eyewitness accounts for confirmed cases of bio-filter pollution to lodge formal complaints against the emitters.
2. Exposure and media campaigns to raise awareness and improve alert response and also inform responsible authorities and lobby for improved standards for waste water treatment plants. As well, work with the manufacturers and the consultants who recommend the product to clients with the goal to encourage them to improve the process. Overall, we are putting a lot of energy into this bio-filter project because it’s representative of the core principles of Surfrider: the campaign against water pollution. If the concept of providing bacteria with substrate to improve efficiency (we’re talking about a 30% gain in efficiency), the idea isn’t new. For some time now, some wastewater treatment plants have used volcanic rocks as bacterial substrate. It’s of little consequence to see this material escaping into streams and oceans. Unfortunately, for economic and production reasons, plastic has been favoured over natural rock – but the plastic isn’t biodegradable and will incrementally pollute the aquatic environment.

SFE: So how it going today? How is the project going?

F.V.: For the media, information and lobbying efforts, we have contacted all the relevant French departments and the elected representatives responsible for coastal management, like the Minister of the Environment, nature-based and aquatic sports organizations. The campaign is part of our Brussels program and we are working on awareness raising in Spain. The 45 Surfrider Chapters in Europe are on alert to react swiftly in case of a new pollution event. Case in point, the Chapter in Picarde has recently encountered this situation. In any case, we are pursuing our investigation into the situation of greatest concern; the coastal Atlantic from Cantabrie (Spain) to the Vendée (France). We have received more than 50 reports on this situation. Unfortunately, several clues lead us to believe that the releases are from one or two entities located on a waterway in northern Spain near the French border. Assuming we’re confident that we’ve identified the responsible parties and the dates of the events, we’re now trying to get information on the quantity of the spill. This could unfortunately reach the tens of millions of individual pieces of plastic!

Translation: Dan McDonald

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sewage Spill in Southern California

Sewage spills, leaks and overflows continue to pollute our beach water and are the 2nd major culprit behind swimming advisories and beach closures issued in this country (stormwater runoff is the first). Another big sewage spill just occurred in Southern California on September 29, 2010.

Los Angeles County health officials closed a two-mile stretch of beach just south of Ballona Creek near Marina del Rey last week after raw sewage flowed into the ocean. The closures were ordered after a clog in a sewer main caused a manhole near Centinela Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard to overflow Wednesday, discharging an estimated 500,000 gallons of raw sewage into a storm drain that leads to Ballona Creek and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean. The spill ranks among the worst in the last two years along the Los Angeles County coastline.

Major Marina del Rey sewage spill will keep beach closed for days A blockage in a main sent about 500,000 gallons of raw sewage into a storm drain leading to Ballona Creek. The spill ranks among the worst in the last two years along the Los Angeles County coastline.

October 01, 2010|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

A major sewage spill that has closed a two-mile stretch of beach near Marina del Rey released about 500,000 gallons of raw sewage into a storm drain that runs to Ballona Creek and eventually spills into the ocean, authorities said.

The spill ranks among the worst in the last two years along the Los Angeles County coastline. The beach will probably remain closed for three days.

Residents reported a manhole overflowing with sewage near Centinela Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Ron Charles, spokesman for the Los Angeles Public Works Department.

City crews dispatched to the scene determined the spill was caused by a blockage in a sewer main.

"The entire backup amount entered an adjacent storm drain, which discharges to the Sepulveda Channel, and ultimately, the Ballona Creek," Charles said in a statement.

Los Angeles and Culver City work crews diverted the flow of sewage, vacuumed up effluent streaming down a hillside and fixed the backup by about 5:30 p.m.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, called it a "major spill," but did not know how much of the sewage had reached the ocean.

The two-mile stretch of beach south of Ballona Creek will remain closed to swimmers and surfers until at least 3 p.m. Saturday, he said.

In January 2006, 2 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from a Manhattan Beach pumping plant after an apparent power failure. Officials launched a massive cleanup after hundreds of thousands of gallons flowed onto the sand and into the ocean.

The last major spill happened in January in South Gate, when 210,000 gallons of sewage flowed through the L.A. River and emptied into Long Beach Harbor, county records show.

County health officials said they are closely monitoring and testing ocean water near the outlet of Ballona Creek. Beaches will reopen when they pass health tests for two consecutive days.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Beach monitoring in CA suffers from budget cuts: Part 2

State's Budget Cuts Put Surfers at Risk

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California’s pristine coastline is in imminent danger, due to the state's financial woes. Photo: Pu’u
California’s pristine coastline is in imminent danger, due to the state's financial woes. Photo: Pu’u

Beach quality testing in California has plummeted in recent years, increasing surfers' risk of unknowingly exposing themselves to contaminated water, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. With no clear state funding for testing after this year, advocacy groups like Surfrider Foundation and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper are stepping up to fill the gap.

Surfrider Foundation began testing beaches in the early '90s, due to the lack of public information on water quality, but bowed out to county agencies in 1999, after a California law required official publicized beach monitoring throughout the state. California led the country in beach quality monitoring, paving the way for the Federal Beach Act, which established water-testing requirements around the nation.

It's a decade later, and water testing in California has fallen to an all-time low since the policy change. In 2008, the state cut the project's $1 million budget, leaving health agencies scrambling to continue testing with emergency bond funds, which are expected to run out by the end of the year. By law, counties are not required to continue the beach monitoring without proper funding, prompting Surfrider to conduct its own testing.

"Some of the counties will basically take the winter off," says Surfrider's Coastal Management Coordinator, Rick Wilson. The counties are prioritizing and assume there will be fewer beach-goers during the colder months, he says. Many Surfrider chapters are using volunteers to raise funds for lab equipment, collect samples, and publicize test results on the web.

"We're not a state certified lab, so we're not necessarily saying to close the beach because of our results," says Wilson. "But it's good general information to know whether the bacteria counts are high or low."

Water with high levels of bacteria, sourced from sewage systems, leaking septic tanks or animal waste, makes surfers vulnerable to illness, rashes and infections. And after the 2008 winter budget cuts, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper took over monitoring several county beaches, posting the contamination levels from spots like Rincon and El Capitan State Beach.

It's common for locals to complain of such ailments after surfing certain spots, says Ben Pitterle, the Watershed Group's Program Director. But coupled with the best swells of the season, even the worst contamination reports can be ignored. Pitterle admits that deciding whether or not to jump in questionable water leads to an unfair give and take, in which good surf usually wins. "If the surf's not that good and it's dirty, I'll stay out," he says. "I think most surfers know what they're getting into-if the surf's good enough, they're probably going to go for it anyways."

Paul Jenkin, Environmental Coordinator for Ventura County's Surfrider Chapter, suffers from frequent ear infections and once had mononucleosis, allegedly caused by poor water quality. The Ventura Surfrider chapter partners with Pitterle's group to test the often-neglected fresh water streams feeding to the central coastline. He believes more people should report illness after surfing dirty water, even when the correlation is difficult to confirm. "I think a lot of surfers think, 'Oh yeah bummer I got sick,' and just kind of move on with things. But if nobody reports then nobody knows. We need to demonstrate that there really is a health risk," he says.

Surfers shouldn't ignore useful albeit bothersome guidelines, like showering post-session and staying out of the water for 72 hours after rainfall. When deciding whether to go to beaches that are near heavy development, creek mouths, or storm drains, Wilson suggests choosing spots with the most natural surroundings. "Where [polluted] water tends to collect, then spill out to the ocean, is typically worse than a spot half a mile away," says Wilson.

California coast residents testing the neglected beaches are hoping for county programs to resume this winter. "We're definitely discouraged that the funding for this kind of important testing is being cut," says Pitterle. "We hope as things turn around, and as the economy improves, it will again become a priority."